This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in the National League. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Pirates, whose lasting image from a year ago was the way the fans united behind, and quite frankly carried their team into the Division Series. Andrew McCutchen and company were just along for the ride; it was the city of Pittsburgh that was leading the charge.
Projected Lineup: LF Starling Marte, 2B Neil Walker, CF Andrew McCutchen, 3B Pedro Alvarez, C Russell Martin, 1B Gaby Sanchez, RF Jose Tabata, SS Jordy Mercer
With the “winning season” albatross now a thing of the past, in 2014 the Pirates will set their sights on loftier goals—winning a world championship.
And you can bet the fans are ready. They’ve recently witnessed an example of the power of a devout home crowd—The Seattle Seahawks recently won the Super Bowl thanks to the help of the “12th man”, so Bucs fans feel as though they rule their own destiny. They’ve spent the offseason working on their best “Cue-to!” chants and buying out anything black from every department store in a fifty-mile radius.
But if the Pirates want to win it all, it takes more than a passionate fan base. They need consistent production up and down the batting order. The Pirates picked up Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau late last season for an offensive boost, but both went their separate ways this winter. That leaves Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin hitting 4-5 in the lineup, and those two guys combined for a .230 average last year. A lot of home runs, to be fair, but a far more common storyline was that of squandered chances: with runners in scoring position, Alvarez and Martin combined to hit .221, with more GIDP’s (11) than homers (10).
The Pirates are going to need some help. And for a small market team who might not have the means to get help from any big names, they will be looking to their minor league system.
One guy the Pirates are hoping will break camp with the big league club is Andrew Lambo, a 25-year-old left-handed bat with some pop. Power from the left side is something the Pirates are lacking, so he would really help to balance the lineup.
22-year old outfielder Gregory Polanco also looks good to be a strong contributor this season, after leading the Dominican Winter League with a .922 OPS. By midseason, Pirates fans should be seeing this five-tooler in a three center fielder outfield with McCutchen flanked by Polanco in right and Starling Marte in left.
In the rotation, the Pirates have a new front man. Gerrit Cole had an up-and-down first couple months in the big leagues before finally putting it together in September, going 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his final four starts. He definitely has the talent and the discipline to lead this team.
Rotation depth could arrive soon in the form of Jameson Taillon, the former 2nd overall draft pick who has long been anticipated to be the Bucs’ number two starter behind Cole.
The Pirates have the pieces to put together another playoff run. And, why not? I don’t care where you’re from, you can’t help but root for this team, whose fans have long since had something real to believe in.
Projected Finish: 86-76, Second place in NL Central